Tag: Classroom Management

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadQuick Tips

Blended Learning: Using technology in and beyond the language classroom

Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett

Macmillan Publishers Limited

Oxford, England

 

Review

Blended Learning introduces teachers into the use of technology inside and outside the classroom. Though there is no doubt about the role of technology in our classrooms, it is rather a challenging task to search, combine, and take advantage of all the variety of tools and materials that one may find on the web. Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett have managed to put together a guide where they present different items of technology to be used in a language class. Their objective is to provide instructors with all the advantages of the tools, present possible problems and solutions that may come in handy, and examples of the way to enhance your classes, as they include a few model lessons plans for different levels of expertise.

If you are looking forward to introducing technology into your EFL classrooms and do not know where to get started, this book will take you by the hand on how to promote your classroom into the 21st century, engaging your students in different and diverse ways of learning.

  • It provides basic information for new technology users, though it also includes helpful websites for more advanced users too.
  • The book not only presents new technological tools, but also directions for the creation of new material.
  • It contains two appendices for beginners with detailed guidance for the use of Internet and the World Wide Web.

Check it out!

 

 

 

 

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

E-Papers: Teachers’ Treasure Trove

By James Cordonero

 When it comes to using realia in an English class, there is no other resource more updated, readily available, and abundant than online news. Nevertheless, teaching a news-based lesson is not just a matter of attaching a link to Edmodo and sending an article for students to read or merely asking them to google it and parrot it in the next class session.

To begin with, well thought-out news lessons should have a clear goal and be structured in such a way that they allow for the implementation and development of several stages such as warm up, pre-reading activities, reading the article per se,  listening to the article whenever a recording is available, vocabulary building and post-reading exercises as well as homework. It is worth mentioning that when using news lessons, instructors ought to implement a segregated-skill approach to developing a particular language skill (speaking, writing, reading, listening), yet all of the four skills should be practiced whenever possible.

Additionally, EFL instructors should also consider the following criteria (Andrew) when selecting a particular article:

  • Appropriateness:To what extent is the topic appropriate? Is it suitable for the class level and age group? Could it be upsetting to some of the students?
  • Interest:Will the students be interested in this topic?
  • Length:Is it too long? Articles that are particularly long should be avoided. Reading news articles is demanding and if they are too long, students might feel discouraged. It will also take time away from students’ talking time.
  • Language and structure:Is there a semantic field (e.g., education, environment, etc) instructors can use to enlarge learners’ lexicon? Are there any target structures related to the contents being covered in the class?
  • Generative Potential:In what other ways can the article be exploited? That is, are there any other activities to follow the article? Articles that lend themselves to discussions, debates, or role-plays are desirable.  Students should able to further practice the language after the reading and/or listening.

Teachers should not only bear in mind such prerequisites but also try, depending on the subject or type of class being taught, to focus on one of the language skills. For instance, one alternative way to using online news stories for developing writing skills is to pair up students, show them a headline and ask them to write as many questions as they can, just as if they were journalists tasked with writing the article corresponding to the headline. Then, they are to answer their own questions and organize their responses into a short article layout provided by the teacher. Afterwards, learners can compare their written versions with the original article.

In addition to being representative examples of clear and concise writing, newspaper articles showcase different types of writing models: informative, persuasive, expository, etc. This plethora of writing samples is certainly a teachers’ treasure to which they can resort to enrich their lessons and bring a large dose of reality into their classrooms.

Regardless of the skill instructors choose to emphasize, an effective news lesson should surpass the boundaries of the article and provide students with the chance to use the new vocabulary and/or knowledge meaningfully and in a variety of real-life contexts.

 

References

Andrew, J. (2008). ‘How to Effectively Use News Articles in the EFL Classroom’, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 12. Web

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopics

Reaping the value of GSE and the GSE Teacher Toolkit

May 25, 2016

Updated 7 July, 2016

My goal as a classroom teacher is to do the best I can to make sure my content is meeting the needs of my learners. After fifteen years of teaching English, I know one thing to be very true: Every single group of learners I work with is different and will require different things from me. One semester I could have a group of students who have strong communicative fluency but are weak in complex critical thinking and contextual analysis of lectures and reading passages. The next semester I may have students who can easily ace a grammar, listening and reading test but struggle to speak in full sentences or respond outside of scripted conversation. This is the frustration and joy of teaching English: The classroom is a dynamic living space that supports the development of unique individuals with unique needs. But how do you know what’s truly working for your learners?

While observation is a valuable resource for assessing student skills, it is really tests, quizzes and tasks that provide enough evidence to understand a learner’s current abilities, strengths and weaknesses. So in any classroom, whether I’m following along with a textbook or creating a custom course, at some point, I need to stop and assess what is working for my learners so I can respond to their needs. Having a solid understanding of the level of ability of learners to perform with specific skills can help me target my teaching to utilize learner strengths to help build skills where learners are weak. This is where tools like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the Global Scale of English (GSE) become extremely useful.

How the granularity of the GSE is a valuable resource

Both the CEFR and GSE are tools that help communicate a learner’s ability to perform. For teachers and administrators, these tools are useful because of the external validation of performance indicators. I myself have spent countless hours creating lesson plans and objectives and wondering “Is this challenging enough?” or “Is this going to be too difficult?” Often, the arbitrator is running the lesson in class and observing the results: successful learning or Hindenburg-level disaster. I found the CEFR useful as a way to quickly gauge whether or not an activity was addressing specific skills that other learners at the same level could perform. The Global Scale of English goes further by drilling down more explicitly into the skills. Where the CEFR is more of a general collection, the GSE provides more granular insight into the explicit skills and functions learners can build to become more proficient in their skills. It’s like the difference between driving from X to Y with or without turn-by-turn directions.

The Global Scale of English starts with the CEFR and builds out 1,000+ descriptors of performance across all four skills. This provides better distribution of the language skills and supports the usefulness of the CEFR to describe learning performance. A word of caution: The descriptors are not designed to be prescriptive about the learning journey! Like the CEFR, the GSE is not an all-or-nothing collection of descriptors indicating that “in order to learn D, you must first learn A, B and C—AND in that order.” Anyone who knows anything about language education can easily see the problems inherent in that kind of thinking. That’s because each learner has unique needs and learning does not occur in a straight line.

So, it is its granular nature that makes the GSE such a valuable resource. As an educator, I feel quite confident in my teacher’s intuition and my ability to use reflective practice to observe what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom. I can be creative and know when to use practice activities and assessments that come with my courses. I also know when I need to add activities and create content that will engage my learners and perhaps add a challenge that is meaningful, but that my course book does not contain. In the past, I would build that content based on my knowledge as a teacher and my knowledge of my students and use the course materials and future assessments as a general guide for their level. When planning I might also consult with other teachers and colleagues in the field as a way of brainstorming ideas and validating whether the content I’m creating is at the right level for my learners. But sometimes, I wonder if I’m making the best decisions. Are my lessons and content truly built for the skills and needs of my students? Enter the GSE Teacher Toolkit: an interactive resource with all the GSE descriptors.

Remember how we have 1,000+ descriptors for the GSE? Well, the GSE toolkit allows a teacher to drill down into all the descriptors quickly and easily to look for specific skills and to determine the level of challenge those skills will present learners. For me, there are three distinct ways to use the toolkit that will benefit English teachers:

The toolkit helps teachers access the GSE as a tool to validate institutional student learning objectives (SLOs)

As a model of descriptors of performance useful for creating rubrics and assessment tools

As an inspiration for interesting and unique content that will engage and excite learners

Of the three pieces, the last is the most useful starting point. Why? Let me give you an example.

The GSE Teacher Toolkit as an inspiration for content

For this example, I’m going to step into some very familiar shoes, those of a language teacher at a local college. My goal is to quickly improve my learners’ levels of ability in English to move students into an engineering class (a great example of teaching English for specific purposes). My coursebook has several strong reading passages and does a great job of building the reading skills with a focus on understanding words from context and using textual analysis to answer questions and describe the process of answering. I provide some authentic content and follow the same skill-building techniques that are outlined in my coursebook, as this is what my student are learning. The students work well, meet the expectations of the course and are working towards the learning objectives. Even with all this work and progress, at the start of the second semester I see many of the same faces in my classroom when I was expecting them to move to a higher course. I have to ask myself, What’s missing?

This is where the toolkit first became an eye-opening resource for me. When I searched the skills I was developing with my learners, all appropriate reading skills, all encapsulated in my SLOs (skimming, scanning, comprehension and basic inferencing), I found that I was teaching right at the level of ability of my B1 learners. The toolkit shows the skills at the B1 level and also at the B1+ level and the B2 level. As I started reading through descriptors of performance, I realized there were some higher-level skills that I had never explored in the classroom with my students, challenges my students were not being prepared for. Suddenly, by looking away from “where my students are now” to “where I’d like my students to be,” I was overwhelmed with ideas for content I could build to supplement my course book.

The GSE provided a new strategy for planning. My course book can cover the basic work and I’m free to generate interesting ideas for classroom activities that will really challenge my learners. Even though the group I’m working with is at a B1 level, I planned a B2-level activity around a GSE descriptor. At the B1 reading level, my students would read and process information from a problem-solution essay. My course book provides several good examples and structured activities to build the skill, reducing the work I have to do.  Now, for the challenge. I selected the following B2-level skill from the GSE toolkit:

Can critically evaluate the effectiveness of a simple problem-solution essay (GSE 61, B2 (59–66)).

This will allow the class to go beyond the surface application of the skill. For the activity, I selected a piece of authentic content, an op-ed piece from the newspaper, a great example of someone explaining a problem and presenting their argument for the best solution. The lesson plan practically wrote itself.

SLO: Students will be able to read and critically evaluate the effectiveness of a simple problem-solution essay from the opinion section of the newspaper.

SLO2: Students will describe which supporting details were most effective to support the author’s solution.

Steps

1) Read and review several shorter structured problem-solutions essays in the course book. Have students skim, scan and read to answer the specific question. Have students identify where the answer is indicated in the text and note why the answer is most appropriate.

2) Solo: Introduce seven selected vocabulary items from the op-ed piece and review.

3) Provide a gist question: Read the title. What solution do you think the author will provide to address the problem? Elicit predictions to check after the reading.

4) Have students skim. Check predictions.

5) Provide a set of comprehension questions. Have students scan and answer questions. Check answers in groups. In groups, have students discuss how they found the answer and why the text indicates this is correct. Check as a class.

6) B2 Skills: Evaluate the Effectiveness—Have students individually answer if they agree or disagree with the author’s solution. Students describe answers and why. Allow time for students to develop answers. In groups, have students share their ideas.

7) Building from the previous: In groups, have students discuss what aspects of the author’s solution were most effective. Have students list what additional details or examples could be provided to help others agree with the solution. Share ideas as a class.

8) In class [if time permits] or homework: Have students find an article, column piece or reading passage that provides an example of a problem solution that effectively swayed the student to agree with the solution for review in the next class.

The toolkit enables me as a teacher to be creative and provides additional validation that I’m working to challenge my learners appropriately. Steps 6 through 8 of my lesson will stretch my learners and, most importantly, help to provide skills that will hopefully see them transition out of my class and into general courses without the need to come back to me again. Being able to conveniently sort through and see descriptors specifically aligned to skills, area of study (professional, academic or general) and level of ability makes the tool particularly useful. No longer do I need to try to comb through and break down the very chunked description of performance in the CEFR to make it manageable and relevant for my learners. Additionally, I don’t have to search by reading through thousands of descriptors. In a few seconds, I can free my teacher planning brain to find new, fun and appropriate ways to challenge myself and learners to do new things together, proving that I am meeting my primary goal as a teacher, which is to support my students’ learning and support them towards success at their level and beyond.

With the new GSE toolkit, I feel as if I have just expanded my ability to discuss potential activities, assess skills and sense check the challenge of my activities with my peers across the world. The GSE certainly won’t replace my particular teacher “Spidey” sense or that of some of my best friends and colleagues in the field, but it certainly opens up a whole new world to what is possible in the classroom.

Reference

Davila, Sara. “Reaping the Value of GSE and the GSE Teacher Toolkit.”Pearson English. N.p., 25 May 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

How to use the GSE to enhance and improve English assessments

July 6, 2016

The Global Scale of English has been a great support and a positive change for my practice. As I previously discussed, the GSE can be used in a variety of ways, but my three favourite uses are as a tool for validating my students’ learning objectives, as a tool to enhance and improve my assessments, and, finally, as a tool to create content. In this discussion, I’d like to look at how you can use the GSE and the Teacher Toolkit to create custom rubrics and also explore the potential of the GSE Assessment Framework for teachers. First up, a refresher on rubrics (please skip to the section titled “Using the Global Scale of English to create English learning rubrics” if you’re already familiar with the concept).

What’s a rubric?

If you aren’t familiar with it, a rubric is a tool that we can use to assess learning performance. A rubric can be used with any skill and with any kind of learning content. A rubric does this by providing descriptors of performance at different levels. Rubrics provide a clear roadmap for what performance is expected at a higher level of achievement. It’s the difference between saying “do better” and saying “Right now you are working at this level and if you concentrate on these skills you will see yourself working at the next level.” A rubric provides a clear indication of what needs to be improved in order for a learner to excel.

The great thing about rubrics comes from their clarity and consistency in assessing performance. A solid rubric helps me look at the specific performance of any given student and capture the information I need to know about the level at which that student currently is while providing feedback that is both summative and formative. The downside of rubrics is the challenge of creating a solid assessment rubric, one that provides a good formative roadmap, while also being reliable as a summative assessment. With practice, trial and error, anyone can create a good rubric. However, practical tools can help save a lot of time and frustration for administrators, teachers and learners.

Most of the rubrics used in the classroom look like this basic example of a rubric used to assess speaking performance:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Speaking Short sentences with some mistakes. Longer, compound sentences with few mistakes. Long, compound sentences. Able to expand on ideas with few mistakes. Long, compound sentences, clearly organized. Able to expand on ideas and clarify concepts with few mistakes.

You will notice that there is no specific context for the speaking component in this rubric example. Depending on how a rubric will be used, you may want a very granular rubric tied directly to the context and content of learning, or you may want a rubric that can be used for a broader assessment. My example rubric could be used as part of an end-of-semester performance assessment, whereas a more granular rubric would be useful as an end-of-unit assessment or even a units-review assessment where I am looking at performance with specific content.

This rubric contains three specific parts: the scale, the performance to assess and the descriptors of performance. The scales for a rubric can vary across the globe; some teachers will use 1–5, some will use Poor to Excellent. When it comes to selecting the scale, use what will work best in your learning environment and help them communicate the rubric to others in the field, to your students and to your administrators. My personal preference is for a scale that indicates the current level of performance, without implied judgement. Once you have your scale in place, you want to figure out what you will be assessing. This will be largely driven by your course. What are you teaching? What performance do you need to assess? Performance of the skill is key.

For example, if you are teaching a grammar-focused class, you would not develop a rubric to assess the students’ grammar knowledge. It’s much easier to use a more traditional test to check for knowledge of rules. However, if you want to see how well a learner is correctly transferring the grammar they are learning into conversation, a rubric can provide direction. Such a rubric might look like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Answer questions about the past and future Answers in simple sentences. Frequently mismatches verb tenses. Easily answers in simple sentences. Uses a few complex sentences. Mismatches verb tenses a little. Does not monitor or correct mistakes. Easily answers in simple and complex sentences. Makes few mistakes with verb tenses. Occasionally able to monitor and correct some mistakes. Easily answers in simple and complex sentences. Elaborates on answers without prompts. Consistent use of verb tenses with few noticeable mistakes. Demonstrates ability to monitor and correct when an error is made.

The final stage of your rubric construction will be the descriptors. The descriptors define what it is you will observe when students are performing. In a speaking assessment, you would be listening to students speaking in a conversation. In a writing assessment, you would look at the organization and cohesion of the students’ writing. The descriptors, then, describe the performance you would expect, aligned to your scale. The descriptors provide information that helps to clearly distinguish between each performance type. Using our writing example, you might have something like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Personal paragraphs Presents personal information and details with little organization. Presents personal information with details. Selection of some details is clear. Presents personal information with supporting details. Details are clearly aligned to the information and arranged in logical order. Presents personal information with supporting details. Details are clearly aligned and organized. Specific examples clarify connections.

As you can see, a rubric builds from the bottom and works upwards. This way I can tell a student who Needs Development what they specifically need to work on in order to get to consistent, proficient and masterful use. This is something that can be planned for, and over the course of a semester, we can revisit this and see how their performance is improving and what next steps to take. A rubric helps to provide that kind of clarity. The greatest challenge in creating a rubric is usually in developing the descriptors of performance. What do I need to describe so I can both observe performance and define what the next level looks like?

Using the Global Scale of English to create English learning rubrics

A rubric is a pretty basic tool that a teacher uses to assess performance … but where does the GSE fit into all of this? For me, the most obvious place is in helping to define performance and create descriptors. As the GSE largely describes the use and application around the four English skills  without providing a specific context. This makes it a great place to start for understanding the performance I want to see in my classroom. Rather than the coursebook deciding, or my using my general sense of performance, the GSE gives me a clear indication of the difference in performance at different points along a learner’s learning journey aligned to a specific stops along the CEFR scale. Using the GSE, I could redraft my writing rubric so it would look like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Personal paragraphs Can give personal details in a written form in a limited way.

(GSE 31/A2)

Can write a brief summary of their personal details.

(GSE 40/A2+)

Can write about personal interests in some detail.

(GSE 47/B1)

Can write about feelings and personal significance of experience in detail.

(GSE 67/B2+)

From the perspective of a teacher, this gives me a good starting point to add further details to my rubric that would allow me to further align with my curriculum and the learning outcomes defined by my institution. This might look something like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Personal paragraphs Can give personal details in a written form in a limited way.

 

 

(GSE 31/A2)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Can write a brief summary of their personal details.

 

 

 

(GSE 40/A2+)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Can write about personal interests in some detail.

 

 

 

(GSE 47/B1)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Can write about feelings and personal significance of experience in detail.

 

(GSE 67/B2+)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Using the GSE, I can also see the progression of skill development and get a sense of how long it will take for learners to improve their performance[1]. Knowing that the difference between Needs Development and Consistent Use is a move from A2 to A2+, I might expect that a student starting at the bottom will get to Consistent Use by the end of a semester. If I have a learner starting at Consistent Use, my goal would be Proficient Use, and Mastery would be a stretch goal. A rubric using the GSE not only helps me get a solid description of the skill performance, but it can also improve my expectations of what learners will achieve based on the length of my course and the number of hours of input and study that will be accessed.

The GSE Assessment Framework

Of course, all of this is a lot of work, so imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that the Global Scale of English team had developed a set of agnostic course rubrics that describe performance, contain descriptors, are aligned to the CEFR, cover all four skills and, most importantly, are available for teachers to download.

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Download the full set of rubrics in the GSE Assessment Framework here: http://bit.ly/29t7RAO

The GSE Assessment Framework would not replace all of my classroom rubrics nor stop me from developing rubrics in the future, but it does provide a nice functional rubric that I can use to assess all manner of performance tasks in my classroom using a tool that is externally validated. That end-of-the-semester speaking test would be a perfect test case for the use of the GSE Assessment Speaking Framework rubric. A mid-term writing assignment could be assessed using an internal rubric with the GSE Assessment for Writing Framework for a secondary reference.

Additionally, the frameworks could be handed out to students at the beginning of the semester and used as a way to help students with personal goal setting. As many of my students have test scores that report aligned to the CEFR, it is a simple matter of having students use the GSE Assessment Framework to see how their current level is described and have them look towards the future to make a personal learning plan to continue to improve their English skills and concentrate on problem areas. The Global Scale of English Assessment Framework doesn’t replace all of my assessment tools, but it certainly becomes another time-saving feature to add to my assessment grab bag.

Having access to something as value packed as the Global Scale of English ecosystem, I realize that improving assessments is one of the first steps when it comes to the functional use of the GSE. With over 1,000 descriptors of performance and an assessment package to boot, I’m excited to think of what I can accomplish by utilising these tools and the impact this will have for me and my future students as we continue to work towards our shared goal of communicative fluency.

References

Davila, Sara. “How to Use the GSE to Enhance and Improve English Assessments.” Pearson English. N.p., 6 July 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

Classroom and MethodologiesLearning and Skills Development

Teaching meaningfully or covering textbook content?

by James Cordonero, Keiser International Language Institute

For those of us working in education, teaching a class that is meaningful to our students can turn out to be an elusive goal. Several factors may prevent instructors from achieving such a goal, chief among them: lack of time to prepare a meaningful lesson and the tyranny of the contents to be covered in a textbook. The latter factor often poses a dilemma for most teachers since some of the topics in a textbook may be completely irrelevant to the reality students live in, and yet covering pedagogical material usually takes a higher priority at the institutional level. This is where teachers’ creativity, experience, and resourcefulness come into play to make pedagogical material come alive for learners and give them something to get their teeth into, so to speak.

An effective teaching technique includes problem-solving activities that present students with cases, even worst-case scenarios, and follow-up questions to guide analysis and foster discussion. For example, a unit dealing with intelligent transportation systems, the kind of technology which is still science fiction in our country (regardless of the newly installed “smart traffic lights” in Managua), could turn into a good opportunity to discuss common issues in the Nicaraguan context such as drunk driving fatalities during the Holy Week, road accidents, and traffic jams.

Another technique for instructors to move beyond rote learning and take a quantum leap into meaningful learning is by encouraging students to think critically. One way to foster the development of high-order thinking skills is by posing thought-provoking questions instead of just providing input. This can give instructors a chance to kindle students’ interest in the seemingly unappealing topic to be covered in the next unit or chapter and thus get a class actively engaged in the learning process while activating background knowledge. For instance, a unit related to abstract art can be introduced by raising questions that make students voice their opinions about what they like or dislike about art in general and what they know about the different forms of art in Nicaraguan culture. They could also be asked hypothetical questions that require them to think or imagine what the world or a particular society would be like if art did not exist, or if saving valuable pieces of “art is worth a life”, a central theme explored in the film The Monuments Men.

As teachers, we should always bear in mind that meaningful learning is knowledge that solves a problem or addresses a particular need. Unfortunately, in many educational institutions in our country, breath of coverage has a higher priority over contextualized and meaningful knowledge. This counterproductive approach to teaching results in nil but classes about everything and nothing in general where students are overloaded with meaningless facts and required to parrot them without even digesting the data, not to mention analyzing them.

In brief, a more down-to-earth approach to teaching and a focus on real-world related matters can contribute to altering the entire culture of a school or school system. It enables students and teachers to explore different types of reality-check scenarios, which is what ultimately will prepare students to tackle with tangible issues. Meaningful learning entails crossing the artificial boundaries of the academic disciplines and injecting a dose of reality into students’ brains so they become more competitive in a fast-changing world. Let’s dare to jump over the fence of conventionality and shift the emphasis from cover-the-material memory work to a more hands-on learning experience.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

A Word on Assessment

by Jose Luis Garcia, Keiser University Language Institute

When evaluating students’ performance in the language classroom, teachers cannot just rely on testing as the primary source of progress. A student evaluation does not occur in isolation or after grading written assignments and or quizzes. Indeed, students’ evaluations need to demonstrate their progress. In fact, from our teaching practice, we learn that testing, assessment, evaluation, and a teacher’s daily lesson observations are complementing factors.  Hence, my proposal relies on following an eclectic approach and including more than one form of assessment during any given evaluation process.

Here is my suggested approach:

To start a teaching session, consider running a diagnostic assessment or test. Find out what knowledge students bring into the classroom and identify areas of growth and learning that need reviewing and improvement. Build on formative assessment behaviors and with the obtained data, establish achievable learning goals to empower and engage students in progress.

Second, I suggest including formal and informal assessment elements. The former includes forms of summative and alternative assessment. Instructors may consider using short quizzes, class projects, and collaborative assignments. From each aspect, they should be able to obtain relevant and concrete information of the students’ progress and challenges.  This process involves students’ completing traditional forms of assessment such as homework, quizzes, and tests. However, in these forms, instructors should make a considerable effort in providing life-like issues that integrate the content and its use in meaningful tasks, for example, using integrative assessment strategies like information transfer items.

One last suggestion is including alternative assessment forms such as the use of checklists, rubrics, self-evaluation, and portfolios. Though these forms are less conventional, they provide vivid samples of a students’ growth throughout a session and how well they can  apply the class content.

An eclectic approach to assessment will provide instructors with more effective more tools to assess learners. It is reliable, valid, and tailored to the learners’ and course needs. It is also systematic for it screens performance and competence at a fair level.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language Training

What Role Do Teachers Play in the ELT classroom?

by Maria del Carmen Gonzalez, Keiser University Language Institute

Are you aware of your real role as a teacher in the ELT classroom? Nobody likes being observed or followed by fifteen pairs of eyes, but as teachers, there are times when your effectiveness relies on how skillful you are at getting your students’ attention. Regardless of all the effort and time you take to plan a class, look for the right activities, and orchestrate the whole class; it is you, and just you who your students are watching and listening to all the time.

The teacher is the most engaging element in the classroom, or at least she or he should be. There is no video, game or activity that could compare with the endless variety of input that comes from teachers. Nothing should spoil  their  performance  in front of  a group because they  wrote a  script and that class is their  platform, their  the center stage, so they should make the most of it. In other words, they should make students believe English is reachable and possible for them.

Instructors should watch their every move, be careful of every word they  pronounce because students are closely watching them . Some students are eager to hear them  and imitate  the word and sounds coming from them .

Actors study body language, simply because they know how powerful it is. They can embody a character or an emotion not only through  the dialogues but also through their body language. The way they move can also communicate more than a thousand words. In much the same manner, instructors should use their body, arms and hands meaningfully to express ideas, moods or attitudes. They should avoid talking to themselves, expressing ideas out loud or mumbling in front of their students because all they sense is intelligible words that make them anxious and aware of their lack of knowledge.

Teachers are the ones in charge of facilitating language for their learners. In fact, they should strike the right balance between using basic and advance vocabulary. Nobody said it was going to be easy, right?

Does this mean that teachers have to do all the work? Of course not! They should let their students deduct, analyze, summarize, propose, discuss, reflect, and overall, practice with the language. However, teachers have to be aware of every word, movement, and gesture they make and try to transform every single event or moment into a meaningful learning experience.

A recording from a class might become a great source of information for instructors. Through the recording they could reflect and analyze not only their language, instructions, feedback, error correction, tone, voice inflection, or rhythm but also the way they  walk and move their  bodies, arms and hands as well as the gestures and faces they  make. As Peter Akerly (2012) intelligently summarizes at the end of one of his lectures, [teachers] are being observed, [they] are the most interesting thing in the room, move and speak with intention”. Therefore, teachers should keep these ideas in mind whenever they are in front of a class if they want to attain their goals.

References
Drilling Target Structures. Dir. Peter Akerly. Perf. Peter Akerly. Youtube. N,p., 4 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 May 2016.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills Development

Enhancing Language Learning Through the Use of Technology

by Charles Gil

Technology has become part of the learning process for all students around the world. The importance of such tool in the learning process is undeniable, and so is the right way to use it in order to produce great results.

In fact, technology has been used for different training purposes across many industries. Some governments, for instance, have used it to train the military with emulators, and simulators, big companies have used it to train new personnel with knowledge bases similar to Google but for internal use, and now schools are using it to enhance learning inside the classrooms. This has given rise to many discussions amongst learning specialists who argue that this new trend could impact the learning process negatively if it is not implemented correctly.

What is the right way to use it then?
Let’s take a brief look at what’s happening in chess, a sport that requires a great deal of training and has recently changed dramatically due to the right use of technology.

Chess masters nowadays could easily beat old masters who never had the chance to use modern technology in their trainings. Many writers and analysts from Chessbase.com have reached this conclusion after comparing the accuracy and blunders of new masters versus previous ones from other decades, and the results are irrefutable: the majority of new masters are simply better players than their counterparts from the past.

This is what chess players are doing right according to many specialists:

  1. They constantly update information with the latest databases.
  2. They use a lot of relevant information; they can study any rival in depth.
  3. They integrate all parts of the game in one single platform such as Chessbase (most popular one in the world).
  4. They can easily measure their progress with artificial intelligence from chess engines such as Fritz, Rybka, etc.

Are we using technology in the same way as in the language learning field?
We are doing so to a certain extent, but not to the point in which we have reached optimal results. I am speaking of course about the Nicaraguan context, in which I have plenty of experience.

One of the biggest mistakes we are making is using the traditional five letter grading system that allows us to determine if a student can pass a level or not. A number or a letter does not say much when it comes to language abilities, and it says even less for training purposes.

In order to be successful we need to find a way to take full advantage of the technology to train our students considering their learning styles and language skills. No student is the same and without the use of technology, it takes a lot of time to create different lesson plans for each individual, but technology allows us to do so when it is used correctly.

What I propose is a different grading system that allows different teachers to focus more on certain aspects of the language. For instance, we could use a system that divides the skills into four parts: reading, speaking, writing, and accent (pronunciation). Until this moment, technology is not required to improve these skills, but this division of competencies could prepare us to be more effective when we start using it.

Once we start grading students differently, we can start using countless free and paid resources from the web and our own creation to assign more relevant content to students when they are working in a lab or the classroom.

Technology allows us to classify students by skills and learning styles easily with the use of databases, and the impact can be quite dramatic in the short and long term as well. Technology does not need any rest, and students now can see a lesson as many times as possible, and practice as well; all this while gradually making it more challenging for themselves. Teachers can see the results of their practices instantly and quickly change the type and intensity of the exercises.

Technology also allows us to measure results and compare them with previous ones instantly. This can be useful to adapt quickly and avoid repeating mistakes. Similar to cancer treatment, technology permits us to create cocktails of drugs (activities) which can combine visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary learning styles. All of this is possible if we attack learning systematically and scientifically.

In regards to the call center industry, we have the advantage of creating very similar conditions to the real floors of production from the actual companies. The use of computers in the labs can also enhance multitasking abilities for students who have to be able to take calls while operating a computer effectively. It is up to us as trainers to simulate the real call center environments as similarly as possible. Oftentimes call centers trainees cannot manage to do all their activities at the same time. Speaking to a customer in a second language is hard enough for some, and adapting can be quite costly for their performance and self-esteem.

In conclusion, we should be excited about the prospects of the use of technology in our field. We are about to become super teachers, but it is only through an extensive comprehension of the matter, and the proper training that we could reach this potential in the short term. We should be constantly monitoring the use of technology in other areas to adapt their best practices into our own. We should be constantly sharing our success stories within our own schools in order to accelerate our own understanding and effectiveness as teachers and trainers.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

To Read or Not to Read? That is the Question.

By James Cordonero

“Reading is the beacon without which I’ll be adrift in an ocean of ignorance.” James Cordonero

In this day and age, digital technology, video games and internet craze deluge the homes, schoolbags and even the pockets of most Nicaraguan students. Such a situation has caused reading to carve an undeserved niche at the bottom of the totem pole of priorities to enrich the human experience, or it has just come to be dismissed as just another academic requirement to plod through school.

If reading plays one of the least important roles in Nicaraguan society either for educational purposes or “low-tech entertainment”, why do so many scholars and educators keep clamoring that it is an essential tool for students to develop their critical thinking skills? Why is there a compelling stack of evidence suggesting that there is a close relationship between reading and academic success?

The illustration below shows how proficient reading, vocabulary enrichment and academic success are related to one another.

Source: http://esl.fis.edu/parents/advice/read.htm

Indeed, reading is both a key to success in the academic and professional world and a source of amusement. As stated by a scholar, “reading is the only form of entertainment that is also an essential life skill” (Aina, 2011).  Both students and professionals in every field must read to keep abreast of what is happening in their respective fields. Unfortunately, in Nicaragua, like in many other Latin America countries, most people, ironically students themselves, have a strong aversion to reading. Several factors exacerbate the issue of poor reading habits in our country. Social media as well as other forms of digital communication and entertainment take the lion’s share of the blame, but another factor may paradoxically be the education system per se. Eduardo Báez, head of Books for Children in Nicaragua, argues that after doing so much interpretive reading and “filling out so many 3×5 cards with boring information at school,” students tend to become adamant book haters. In other words, school does not contribute to building the habit of reading; instead, students learn to view it “as a necessary evil”.

Additionally, some elementary and high school teachers oftentimes and inadvertently instruct their students to do “cut-and-paste research”, thus turning the latter into an army of lazy researchers and fostering a culture of plagiarism. Consequently, when students get to university, they lack critical thinking and research skills they need in order to succeed in their respective fields. That is if they manage to pass the university admission test. Statistical information reveals that there is a large percentage of high school students who are unable to pass it. Last year, for example, Nicaragua Dispatch (2013) reported that “a jaw-dropping 94% of recent Nicaraguan high school graduates failed the basic entrance exam for the National University of Engineering (UNI).” Sadly, most Nicaraguan high school graduates are not even interested in reading to pass a standard university exam.

No one can deny that reading habits are changing due to technological development. Unfortunately, most of the evidence seems to suggest that they are either changing for the worse or vanishing into thin air. The misuse of technology and the control it is taking over individual lives has had a negative impact on people’s reading habits rather than facilitate the development of such habits. Indeed, the declining interest in the reading culture among our children and adolescents should be a cause of concern and a challenge to all, which is why something ought to be done to address this critical issue. Unfortunately, reading is not taught or included in the Nicaraguan school curriculum, for it is not a subject per se and cannot be taught separately as most other subjects in the curriculum rather it is incorporated in every other subject and is regarded as a tool facilitating other types of learning. Undoubtedly, the lack of reading culture among youths adversely affects the quality of graduates being produced by the nation’s educational institutions.

What school authorities in Nicaragua should do is to launch a readership campaign aimed at not only promoting a culture of reading at school but also encouraging parents at home to set aside time to read for their children. Further, reading should be promoted through partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors such as publishers, booksellers, and  instructors. Schools should also organize debates and essay competitions for students. This type of activities will certainly help in generating reading interest and the habit of gathering information more selectively. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that providing access “to relevant information and promoting a reading culture are prerequisites for strengthening literacy skills, widening education and learning opportunities, and helping people to address the causes of poverty” (Mokatsi, 2005).

References
Aina, A. J.; Ogungbeni, J. I.; Adigun, J. A.; and Ogundipe, T. C. (2011). “Poor Reading Habits Among Nigerians: The Role of Libraries” Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). Paper 529.  Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1560&context=libphilprac

Mokatsi, R. (2005). Sharing resources- how library networks can help reach education
Goals. East African Book Development Association. Retrieved from http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/igbokwe-obodike-ezeji.htm

Rogers, T. (2013). “94 percent fail college admissions test.” Nicaragua Dispatch. Retrieved from http://nicaraguadispatch.com/2013/01/nicaraguans-fail-college-admissions-test/

English Language TrainingTopics

ELT From the Experts’ Perspective

by ELT Trainers

Learners should take advantage of every single learning opportunity to improve and learn from the experienced ones.  That is exactly what happened on Friday, September 11th, when ELT Trainers, ELT participants, and some AEP instructors received Bernadette Musetti, Allen Ascher, and Alfieri Avilan at Keiser University International Language Institute in San Marcos. The gathering aimed at providing an opportunity to have an academic exchange of thoughts and learning between the visitors and the participants who have been studying and discovering Pearson’s online TDI content over the last six months.

Dr. Musetti, a book writer and an expert in Standard-Based assessment and ESOL, shared her advice and experience while working with ESOL learners as well as her expertise on setting standards for language programs.   Furthermore, the participants had an open forum with Mr. Ascher, one of the writers of the distinguished and awarded Top Notch and Submit book series. Ascher also participated in Pearson’s Teacher Development Interactive modules as the principal developer of the Teaching Speaking module.  The attendees learned about the series philosophy and module’s academic foundation. Last but not least, Mr. Alfieri Avilan, Pearson’s Academic Consultant and Keiser’s International Language Institute Academic Advisor for the development of the English Language Teacher Certificate, shared his knowledge in the use of technology in the classroom.

Here is a summary of the experts’ advice.

1. Teaching

Being the Language Institute courses mostly developed at the EFL and ESP levels, teachers asked the experts’ advice about teaching strategies that satisfactorily suit ESL learners and are paramount when teaching a foreign language. One essential piece of advice to consider is that teachers cannot continue embracing both traditional teaching and styles of learning.  Secondly, teachers and students have to rely on interaction at all learning levels and stages so as to develop in the learner confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Though games are simple and very basic, Dr. Musetti suggests using them to develop learners’ language skills and interpersonal communication. When students describe each other, post their descriptions, or find differences in pictures, they also develop vocabulary and speaking skills in general. These activities  do not only entertain students but also give  them chances to produce language in context and enable learners to engage in meaningful language interaction, explained Dr. Musetti.

Similarly, Allen Ascher complemented that traditional practices such as asking True and False statements and Yes/No questions after a listening, grammar, reading, or vocabulary exercise do not contribute to  learners’ language development, much less their critical thinking. For example, during True or False drilling, “the students have a 50-percent chance to give the right answers and …that’s not good”, said Ascher. “I want my students to be able to show me how they get to that answer. Or explain how they get to that answer and when I don’t have that happen I can’t see my students have learned. I cannot see if they know it unless they show me they can,” he added.

When the role of technology as a key leading factor to language exposure and learning was raised, Alfieri Avilan advised teachers not to become blind adepts of technology and to demystify the belief that links effective teaching to the use of technology and its resources. Avilan explained that “technology is part of (the process).  What we need to understand is …how we can combine these tools so the students can actually go beyond the fact of the use of these elements and create language moments.” Nowadays, many teachers are more concerned about what they miss and lack (better connectivity, State-of-the-art technology, and more gadgets); however, they tend to forget that these elements will not replace the role and the job of a teacher. Indeed, he added that “technology is not in the center; what is the center is the learners.” Therefore, teachers have to plan, so they can make adequate decisions about what and how to teach and with what resources.

  1. Learning

First of all, when helping young adults and adult learners learn, Dr. Musetti suggested using a more direct approach so as to obtain a more genuine integration in the learning process. “Be really explicit with your students and explain this is the approach I am thinking, and this is what I believe and why. And this is how you are going to benefit from it,” she explained. Why should teachers give explicit information? Because otherwise the students will be very confused, since what you are doing and trying to achieve in your classes does not match up with their course expectations and your teaching delivery.  Indeed, she added, “That’s the problem some teachers are having because their students are used to a certain way, a certain expectation, a certain approach to learning.”

Consequently, teachers need to be explicit about their teaching and learning goals and say what the goals require. “When teachers make their students part of this process, clarified the expert, “teaching time becomes easier, and the collaborative work improves. Being explicit is beneficial in terms of students learning.”

Second, a teacher’s work becomes more effective and rewarding when his or her students see learning as a process in which they create and build things.  As a result, if the conditions and environment induce to learning, the students’ affective learning filter reduces, concluded Alfieri Avilan.

Third, Ascher pointed out that “teachers play a crucial role in keeping students on their toes, keeping them thinking, and keeping them guessing.” If we were to transfer this thought to the classroom, then everything would come down to the kind of questions that teachers ask and to the students’ effort and success in providing satisfactory answers. Whenever a student provides an answer, ask him or her to explain the response.  When the students can explain their answers, teachers can see what students really and already know and whether they have actually learnt or not.

  1. Standards, Standardization, Assessment…

Dr. Musetti talked about the role of having standards and the importance of assessment in any teaching and language learning process. She advised teachers that before establishing any standard, they should do some research, look into it and assess the standard’s real value. “It is a critical thinking task…” because standards and assessment cannot be taken lightly.

In addition, “If any given institution feels ready to assume the process,” Dr. Musetti explained, “the institution should develop its own standards,  proficiency exams, assessment, and have  them on multiple and institutional levels.” “More importantly,” she emphasized, “the institution standards do not need to be exactly linked to the materials. The materials may become the learners’ exit criteria, however. This thought challenges the habit of developing programs and curriculum around well-known textbook series and publishers. Nevertheless, Dr. Musetti explicated that she is not against this practice since adopting standards is not harmful. In fact, an academic or national institution may adopt others’ standards and work with them as well, but these standards need to be adjusted to meet the institutions’ and learners’ specific needs and wants.

“What is the standard that Nicaragua needs? That you need?” She asked. There are different kinds of standards and purposes, and intentions. There are large scale standards for teacher preparation, for English language development, or there might be a national standard. Certainly, every institution may work toward a standard (even compete), but how they “are reaching the standard is up to them. However, having standards doesn’t have to mean standardization,” she explained.

Having standards is a path to follow and guide one’s work; however, there are other elements to consider. “The students are one essential element,” said Avilan.  How much they learn and how they get to that learning after a given learning experience is important. Another element to take into consideration is what skills they have developed and which strategies they were able to improve. Then it is not only understanding content but also understanding how the “puzzle integrates and what tools are required to carry out the assessment process.”

“Effective assessment,” Ascher added, “provides teachers with concrete evidence of the work done.  If your students are able to explain their learning, then your job is done. On the contrary, if they cannot explain their learning, you have the obligation to find out why they were not able to achieve the goal.”  Ascher went on to say that “this teacher’s reflection points out a teacher’s constant need to assess; whether to stop and review or to continue and move onto the next content.” He advises that get more at their students’ level to clearly understand what they need and lack, what they have achieved and what they have not. For instance, he illustrated, “if you teach vocabulary, ask questions that keep your students thinking even though the book gets out of questions, drive your students crazy with your questioning.” Then you can search for common grounds and standard processes.  All of it comes down to well-founded teaching practices.

To conclude, all panelists agreed that standards will not always work. Since standards are just words on a piece of paper, users have to be taught the standards, and then they have to assess them. The process of developing standards and standardization “takes a lot of fidelity on how you implement them and you assess them,” Dr. Musetti said. Last but not least, “if you find out the standards are or have been very useful… then and only then your institutions may be ready for standardization…”

  1. Food for Thought…

The following is  a list of the most critical thoughts brought up by the panelists.

Allan Ascher

  1. I cannot consider my students have learned unless they show me how they get to that answer or explain how they get to that answer.
  1. One of the most important questions to me in the classroom is Why? If the student gives an answer, ask Why? And I drive my students crazy with that why…
  1. Teachers play the role of keeping students on their toes, keeping them thinking, keeping them guessing, keeping them…

Bernadette Mussetti

  1. Be really explicit with your students and explain this is the approach I am thinking and this is what I believe and why, and this is how you are going to benefit from it.
  1. Developing standards; it is worth investigating. It is worth looking into it and seeing if this works for us…It is a critical thinking task.
  1. Having standards doesn’t have to mean standardization.

Alfieri Avilan

  1. Technology is not in the center; what is the center is the learners.
  1. Learning is a process of creating things and building things up so that is what the main use of technology should be about.
Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopics

Edmodo – Breaking the Barriers of Space and Time

by Bosco Bonilla

Every teacher and school is always looking for an effective way to engage students, connect with them, coach them and finally help them become better learners. Edmodo is an open online platform for learning that allows interaction between teachers and students in a Facebook-like environment. The platform enables teachers to share content, assess students, upload assignments, and keep in touch with students, colleagues and parents. As an instructor working at Keiser Language Institute puts it:

When I discovered Edmodo I fell in love with it. I love the fact that it looks like Facebook and it is attractive to students because they can download the app and use it in their smart phones or tablets, so whenever there is no lab available they can interact inside or outside the classroom. It also means using less paper, thus   contributing to protect the environment (Martin Montalvan – EPD and EPC Teacher).

In the modern world people are always busy, hopping from one task to the next, rushing from home to work, then to the next meeting. Students, especially adults who have the desire and need to learn English face an important challenge as they have to juggle with family, work responsibilities and keeping up with an English course.

Edmodo offers a solution by empowering instructors to continue coaching their students beyond the boundaries of the brick and mortar and exposing them to real English after school hours. Authentic materials used in class, such as videos or articles can be made available for students to revise at home. Learners can post comments or questions about the material and expect clarifications and further insight from the teacher. Indeed, Mr. Montalvan states that Edmodo enables instructors to keep in touch with learners as instant notifications can be posted and students’ questions addressed.

Also, tutors can direct special attention and give additional assistance to weak students. Through Edmodo teachers can send messages, extra work or even full lessons to specific pupils. If a student needs more work on one skill or area, the teacher could prepare a personalized study plan for him or her through the platform. Another advantage is that teachers “can create connections with other teachers from different institutions, universities and countries and cultures”, which enriches the teaching experience (Montalvan).

It may sound like a lot of work for the teacher at this point, but in reality everything instructors need to craft their classes in Edmodo is one click away. The educational social network allows teachers to connect with any other website on the internet. By simply adding the URL or link teachers can make available videos, exercise, and explanations. In addition, all sorts of formats, such as PDF, Microsoft world documents, JPEG and MP4 files can be uploaded. Features like polls, quizzes, posts and assignments give teachers all the tools they need to assess, give instructions to and interact with students.

Nevertheless, as any successful class, a group on Edmodo requires careful planning. Teachers must search for the content that matches the objectives they are trying to reach and the level of their students, carefully design the activities they want students to complete and write very clear directions. There are tons of videos on  a topic on youtube and similar websites, but not all of them are suitable for a beginners class, for example.

With all these tools at hand experienced teachers can combine face-to-face interaction with technology that aids in breaking the barriers of time and space and give students of all ages the chance to learn English effectively and in the language of the 21st century.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills Development

The Chat Club – An Educational Adventure through the Looking Glass

by Zee Valey-Omar

The conversation club was created primarily to address the needs of graduates of the English for Professional Development program at the Language Institute for further development and continued exposure to English.  It is unlike the traditional classroom in which the subject matter is aimed at teaching specific rules of grammar, structure or phrases and gently leading students to the mastery of fragments of the language under the watchful eye of a patient teacher. On the contrary, participation in the conversation club requires a high level of proficiency and uses only material to which native speakers are exposed and in which students express an interest.   Students are encouraged to think critically and express their opinions as clearly as they might in their mother tongue. Some of the subjects discussed are current events, philosophy, psychology, behavioral science, medicine, theology etc. This is a hybrid classroom in which problems are solved, ideologies are challenged, trends are analysed, opinions are expressed and experiences are shared. The participants are motivated solely by the desire to learn and develop their abilities proving perhaps the validity of the idea that in adults, the desire to learn is innate. This is learning for the sake of learning, the exquisite but illusive mythical creature that teachers dream about. While the course offers constant feedback and evaluation, students are not graded in the traditional sense. Here, the teacher plays the role of facilitator, giving guidance and advice.

While not purely Metacognative in methodological strategy, this course relies on some of the facets of Metacognative Strategies as expounded by O’Malley et al (1985). Students are encouraged to be active participants in the learning process from the conception stage by recommending material, thinking about the direction of their development by discussing the aims of exercises and being conscious of the skills they will develop in each activity. In keeping with the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson entitled: “Do schools kill creativity?” we steer away from the stigmatization of mistakes, trying instead to see them as opportunities to learn. The process of evaluation is constant, beginning with self evaluation, evaluation by piers and the facilitator. Creative thinking is encouraged above all.

One might argue that the open group structure of the class has elements of Socioeffective Strategies expounded by Brown (2007) as students constantly clarify and explain their ideas and similarly seek explanation and clarification from their peers.

This process of collaboration and constructive evaluation has had several consequences. Firstly, students have created their own English learning community which, free of the constraints of deadlines and exams allows for organic development. Secondly, conscious of the aims of the exercises, students are highly motivated to prepare and contribute. Thirdly the learning process provides students with an honest view of their abilities to comprehend authentic material, comment on it, problem solve, produce summaries and articulate their opinions. Finally and perhaps most crucially, students are able to set aside the anxiety of stagnating or regressing in their hard earned English proficiency.

In accordance with Malcolm Knowles (1984) the Conversation Club strives to create an atmosphere of cooperation. Some problem solving activities involve the fragmentation of a task into small parts which students later present as a group. In this type of exercise, students might be required to brainstorm ideas and then split of into groups to find solutions before they reunite to select the best solution. This is a skill which students value as is transferable to the workplace, where a high level of proficient participation is viewed favorably. Role play is another activity which fosters a further sense of camaraderie between students. An additional activity that the Conversation club engages in is an exercise entitled: In the news this week. During this segment, students review an important event in world news using a list of questions devised for the exercise. Here, news reports, online news papers, and blog posts are used. This kind of exercise assists in vocabulary development and comprehension. In keeping with the ideas of Malcolm Knowles (1984), there is a constant emphasis on goal driven exercises. Practicing complex sentence structures such as the third conditional for example might be the aim of watching a TED talk or a BBC video. This is simply not a course for a detestable, lazy teacher who arrives in class and vacantly asks learners what they would like to talk about. Students constantly provide the teacher with feedback on the lesson and future activities are adjusted according to what the students’ needs. The Conversation Club student needs to know what she/ he is learning and why. This type of student does independent research and eagerly searches the Edmodo group to see what the following week´s lesson entails or what she/ he missed the previous week.  A weekly poll is taken to determine future subject matter, what is of interest to students and to give the teacher time to gather material and create exercises around the material.

If I were to advise students on how to develop language proficiency outside of the classroom I would say that first of all, that one has to recognize the classroom for what it is. It is a simulated environment of learning in which all factors, the material, the exercises and the teacher conspire to nurture and support you. This, while comforting to a learner, might create a false sense of proficiency. I suggest that learning be seen as all inclusive, classrooms and grammar books are simply not enough. Students need to incorporate music, literature, culture, podcasts, TED talks, and cinema and in fact everything that interests them. I have often seen young students roll their eyes when jaded, uninspired teachers tell them to watch the news to improve their vocabulary. I firmly believe that the best material to use is what interests us.   A learning community is invaluable. No-one learns a language to live alone on an island, language is for communication. Students should find ways to communicate as frequently as possible both inside and outside the classroom without the fear of making mistakes. We need to stop demonizing mistakes and perhaps look at the way we correct students. One simply cannot correct an adult as if she/ he is a child. Students in turn should take cognisance of corrections, pay attention to patterns of mistakes and work independently to improve.  As teachers, we should foster the idea of learning as a process does not end at graduation.

I feel that students should be taught that learning a second language to be proficient is simply not enough. We need to be able to express ourselves as we would in our native tongue, to feel that our personality is revealed by the articulation of our thoughts and opinions. While this may not be possible for everyone due to varying abilities, it should be something we aim at. The half existence of second language speaker is simply not enough. Moreover I believe that a crippling tendency prevails in higher levels of learning where all the students and the teacher speak the same language- the tendency to translate and not explain. I see to some extent that this might be necessary in lower levels but I regard this as crippling because at higher levels because this is simply not transferable to real life situations with native speakers. Students should be aware of the habits they develop in learning English and constantly question whether the skill is transferable to a real life situation. Most crucially, students should know that languages are in constant development and they should maximize their exposure and be active participants in their development as English speakers.

Works Cited
Brown, D. H. (2007). Principles of Language Learning & Teaching. (5th Ed.). Pearson: Longman.

Knowles, M. and Associates (1984). Andragogy in action: Applying modern principles of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

O’Malley, J. M., Chamot, A. U., Stewner-Manzanares, G., Kupper, L.J. & Russo, R.P. (1985). Learning strategies used by beginning and intermediate ESL students. Language Learning, 35(1): 21-46.

Classroom and MethodologiesLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopics

The Best Way to Learn English? Just Make it Fun!

by Bethany Vilchez

You are sitting in a classroom and the teacher is filling the board with grammar rules about comparative adjectives.  You are trying so hard to pay attention, but all the words on the board make your brain shut down. You decide to take a short nap. When you wake up, the class is over. Oh, well.  You’ll have to review again at home!

Now, picture this: You and your teacher are sitting in a circle and having a discussion about your favorite apps, what you like and dislike about each one.  You and the other students download some of your favorite apps to show one another and compare which are the best and the worst.  Before you know it, the class is over.

You had fun, and you learned about comparison adjectives. But why is it that one can learn more or more easily, for that matter, while having fun?  Linguists agree that any activity that relaxes students can make it easier for them to acquire information. One such expert, Stephen Krashen, calls this the affective filter. When a student feels pressured or is under stress, his/her affective filter is raised which prevents him/her from acquiring any new information. Basically, a high affective filter can be compared to a mental block. The idea is to keep the affective filter low so that concepts can “flow” to the brain and not be impeded.

Another reason why it is easier to learn new concepts while you are having fun is something called intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is performing an activity because you enjoy it.  So, if you are having fun while completing an activity, it is much easier to feel motivated and master that endeavor or task. Without intrinsic motivation, it becomes very difficult for someone to excel in any pursuit.

Finally, Dr. Glasser, the creator of Choice Theory, stated that “Fun is the genetic payoff for learning.”   It is a basic need that drives human behavior. In other words, when learning a language is fun, it becomes natural and empowering. Thus, having fun while learning a language leads to quicker and more natural acquisition of that language.

Remember that having fun does not mean that there is chaos or disorder in the classroom; it is quite the opposite. Students are extremely focused and astute because what they are doing is extremely interesting and motivating for them.  Thus, having fun while learning relaxes students and leads to a more natural acquisition of the target language.

English Language TrainingMust Read

Book Review – Essential Teacher Knowledge

cq5dam.web.1600.9600Book Title: Essential Teacher Knowledge
Author: Jeremy Harmer
Year of Publication: 2012
Publisher: Pearson

 

 

 

Review by Jose Tapia

When you hear that Jeremy Harmer has published a new book it might feel like you have just hit the jackpot. But without sounding too biased, (though I must confess I have a few of his books), I am sure that Essential Teacher Knowledge will find a good number of fans.

ETK could be described as a hybrid between his previous bestsellers How to Teach English and The Practice of English Language Teaching, but perhaps more thorough than the former and more accessible than the latter and is divided into six different sections.

The section titled ‘Language’ covers the four main areas of the language system (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, text and discourse) and is simple, straightforward but detailed enough, thereby making it great for both newbies and those with some experience.  The truth is if you don’t use it, you lose it and these pages will serve as a great revision tool. As in its predecessors, theory is linked to practice so you are given information on the different types of conditionals but also suggestions on how to teach them. An original feature is that each language point is introduced with a short text or dialogue about the life of a teacher somewhere in the world. Therefore, it is contextualised around the topic of teaching making it relevant and appealing to the reader.

The chapter on ‘Background to Language Teaching Methodology’ is practical and relevant so there is theory and background but the focus is definitely on real issues e.g.  what types of mistakes students usually make. It addresses how teaching and learning might be different at different ages, contexts and levels rather than just concentrating on teaching adults alone.

The part on ‘Teaching Language and Language Skills’ follows a similar pattern in the sense that it gives you some input and then some practical ideas to use in the classroom. For instance, it introduces ways of presenting language such as PPP but also techniques linked to it e.g. using fingers to show language constructions.  There are also links to the DVD so that you can see these suggestions in real ‘teaching’ situations.

There are two other sections, ‘Managing Learning and Teaching and Planning’,’ Resources and Assessment’ which look at a number of different aspects of classroom management and planning from classroom set up to teaching without materials. These support and complement the other parts in the book and are appropriate to any teaching context.

Two especially important chapters are the ones on ‘Young Learners’ and ‘CLIL’. It is quite refreshing to see these focused on a book like this. The first one will be of great help to those new to YL and also to experienced teachers who have found themselves in this new territory for which they may have not received any formal training.  Similarly, the focus on CLIL (isn’t it where we are all heading anyway?) is useful and insightful.  It describes the sort of language often taught and how genre plays an important role in CLIL as well as it shows different types of materials and activities. I see this area being more in the spotlight in the next few years (especially with the increase of non-native students in mainstream schools in the UK and more schools becoming bilingual all around the world) and therefore very relevant.

Essential Teaching Knowledge is clearly organised and information can easily be found. The content is concise without making you feel overwhelmed, perfect for those of us who only have a few minutes to spare to satisfy a query. It is well signposted so you are constantly referred to related content should you want to know more about something. Perhaps the only downside is the level of detail so if you are looking for in depth analysis and description this is probably not the best book.

It comes with a number of additional perks. The accompanying DVD, mentioned above, contains 2 hours of video footage of teachers from around the world talking about their experiences and demonstrating key teaching techniques such as giving instructions. Oh, a CELTA trainee and trainer’s paradise! Needless to say, the clips could also be used for in-service CPD sessions.

There is a glossary or Glossdek which explains technical terms making it accessible and jargon-free.

Additionally, there are some links to the web which complement the pronunciation unit and provide a wide range of resources, one of which is called Revise, Research, Reflect.  Although it sounds like you might get a rash from its name, it is actually quite a simple and helpful tool to check your own learning with exercises and questions about each unit.

This book is appropriate for teachers who want to embark on an introductory course such as CELTA or TKT. It could be used by General English teachers as well as those teaching young learners and CLIL. It is suitable for native or non-native speakers, though apparently more targeted to the latter group.

There is no doubt that ETK will become a great addition to any EFL staffroom as a handbook for newly qualified teachers, for those with some experience and for ‘Deltees’ like myself who need a refresher.